Activist Kimberly Davis came to UNC's campus Monday night to speak about her family’s long struggle to prove the innocence of her brother, who was executed by the state of Georgia in 2011.
“I am the sister of Troy Davis, who was an innocent man who was executed on death row,” Kimberly Davis said.
Troy Davis was executed for the 1989 killing of police officer Mark MacPhail. Nine witnesses originally testified that Troy Davis had killed MacPhail. Later, seven of those nine witnesses recanted their statements and said that they had been coerced into saying Davis had shot MacPhail.
Much of the audience was made up of students enrolled in Frank Baumgartner's political science course, Race, Innocence and the Decline of the Death Penalty.
“Within the context of the class, this lecture offers a more individual perspective, and a very human perspective on the topics we’ve discussed in the class,” teaching assistant Kai Stern said.
Kimberly Davis described her brother as a strong Christian and caring brother and uncle, even during his 16 years on death row.
“Troy actually taught my nephew De’Juan how to play football by passing a soda bottle back and forth, and how to build airplanes by making little paper airplanes out of wrappers from Reese’s cups, right there in the visitation room in the prison,” Kimberly Davis said.
She described the web of corruption the Davis family navigated as Troy was arrested, convicted and executed.
“The justice system and the death penalty is very sporadic," said attendee Madeline Murray. "It’s a really flawed system in general, and the amount of people who have been killed compared to who have been sentenced is really low."
Davis said her family witnessed intense misconduct, starting when the judge at Troy Davis’ sentencing did not take the hearing seriously.
“He was talking to other attorneys and talking about golfing and when they were going to hang out," Kimberly Davis said. "They were all on a first-name basis, and it was not professional at all. It was all fun and games to him."
The entire Davis family advocated for Troy, but struggled to find anyone who would listen, until the case caught the attention of Rev. Al Sharpton.
“None of the ministers we talked to originally wanted to get involved in my brother's case," Kimberly Davis said. "It was so ironic because when they saw on Savannah news that Al Sharpton was coming to town, they were knocking on our door, wanting Al Sharpton to come to their church."
With Sharpton came the support of the NAACP, Amnesty International and the National Action Network. Support, publicity, petition signatures and letters to Troy flooded in, and Troy Davis’ name became known across the country.
“We met so many people from all over the world that came to Savannah and said they believed in Troy and wanted to know what they could do. We had petitions from all over coming in,” Kimberly Davis said.
Troy Davis’ execution dates continued to be pushed back, and he was ultimately executed on his fourth execution date.
Kimberly Davis asked the audience to advocate for other death row prisoners, even when the issue is not in the news.
“If y’all can take anything from this talk, if you know something is wrong, don’t keep your mouth closed," Kimberly Davis said. "We don’t need to be against the death penalty when someone is in the spotlight and then go back to not talking about it. We have so many people who are on death row for 10, 20 years, and they are innocent."
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